Sunday, 26 February 2012

I Do Like To Bird Beside The Seaside...

Double-crested & pelagic cormorant
It was blowing a hoolie overnight Friday, and so Saturday I set off to the waterfront with seabirds on my mind. A wonderful theory perhaps, but once I got out I realised that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction to be of much use... oh well, I decided I might as well see what was about anyway.
I kicked off at a very gusty Clover Point. A couple of hundred mew gulls were taking shelter, roosting on the exposed rocks while the more robust glaucous-winged gulls were hunkered down on the main grassy area. They all went up when an adult bald eagle came in to inspect the tideline. A couple of Thayer's gulls graced the point with their presence, but no 'white-wingers' were to be found. Hundreds more mew gulls were feeding distantly offshore.
Shorebirds were thin on the ground; just 2 dunlin and 15 black turnstones were feeding along the kelp strewn rocks while a couple of black oystercatchers peeped noisily around the area. 
On the water, the usual harlequins, buffleheads and surf scoters were present along with smaller numbers of long-tailed duck, red-breasted merganser and a drake white-winged scoter.
Common and Pacific loons were also fishing out on the water, joined by the regular red-necked and horned grebes. Pigeon guillemots, in various stages of moult, peppered the seascape while common murres blasted around in small, tight packs further out.
Next stop, Harling Point for more of the same. I did manage to add a couple of marbled murrelets here, and common merganser to the list of birds seen. The rocks were bereft of shorebirds.
There was a little more going at McMicking Point, but not much. Harlequins, hooded mergansers and buffleheads were taking shelter from the wind in the shallow bays while a few double-crested and pelagic cormorants were roosting on the exposed rocks (pic). Despite the availability of suitable habitat, I didn't find a single turnstone or surfbird. Maybe the low tide just meant that they had lots of places to feed, and were choosing more secluded spots away from the prying eyes of a Brit birder...

Ist year drake white-winged scoter
A quick stop at Oak Bay Marina was notable for adding a pair of greater yellowlegs to the daylist. Scanning through another sizable roost of mew gulls, I couldn't dig anything unusual out. A 1st year drake white-winged scoter was fishing just off the marina mouth (pic).
I wound up at Cattle Point where the story much remained the same. Other than the small cluster of American wigeons dabbling around near the slipway, it was pretty much a repeat of the birds seen thus far along the coast.
Perhaps if I keep trawling this stretch, I WILL find a rock sandpiper eventually. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Flats Life

With the benefit of a dry, if overcast, morning Panama Flats was today's destination. I met Lynette Brown at the parking area around 9.30am and we headed off to see what we could see.
This was Lynette's first visit to the site, and I was happy to be able to pass on the same kindness shown to me by local birders when I first arrived in Victoria by showing Lynette around.
It was immediately apparent that were fewer birds here than on my last visit, with the larger areas of water almost devoid of ducks. In the marshier sections we could see reasonable numbers of pintail, shoveler and green-winged teal as well as a few American wigeon and mallard.
A marsh wren was singing, unseen, from a clump of vegetation by the path as we walked toward the main raised bank. This was soon followed by the unmistakable sound of a western meadowlark, and we soon located two of these wonderful birds.

Badly posing, dodgy-scoped gadwall
A female ring-necked duck was out on the larger pool, along with a handful of buffleheads, and small numbers of the commoner dabblers. A single American coot and a few gadwall were paddling around, their subtle beauty almost overshadowed by the comparative gaudy pintail, teal and shovelers.
We walked around the perimeter path to the grey building where we briefly checked through the sparrows. The usual Lincoln's and song sparrows were present, but there was no sign of the tree sparrow. 
We bumped into a couple of birders who had found a swamp sparrow further along the path, and we stopped and chatted about the future of the Flats. After a while we headed off in search of ol' swampy, but despite our best efforts we could only dig out more Lincoln's and song sparrows plus another singing marsh wren (this one actually showed).
A red-tailed hawk was being harassed by crows and gulls as it moved around the area and a couple of great-blue heron were stalking the shallows.
Even though we didn't see anything out of the ordinary, we had a great morning's birding and I was reminded once more just how different every visit to Panama Flats can be. It will be interesting to see what drops by at this brilliant site as spring starts to gather pace.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Very Watery BC Waterbird Count...

Harling Point
The official BC Coastal Waterbird Survey count date was last Sunday, but given that the high tide was around 5.45am on that day, I thought I'd do the count this weekend when the tide was at least up during daylight hours.
As it happens, I shouldn't have bothered. Cold, near horizontal rain and gusty winds were the primary features of the count as I staggered soggily around the coast late morning.
Visibility was reasonably decent despite the precipitation, but birds were just really thin on the ground. Or water.
Very small numbers of loons, grebes and just 2 pigeon guillemots were seen along with the usual buffleheads, harlequin ducks and a couple of long-tailed ducks. Surf scoters were present in smaller numbers than is often the case and even the bulk of gulls seemed to be elsewhere. A lone white-winged scoter came by.
Highlights included a group of 14 surfbirds near McMicking Point, doing what surfbirds do best, clinging onto wave battered rocks (a further 5 were at Harling Point). Most unusually, I didn't see a single turnstone or oystercatcher anywhere.
Three small flocks of brant were seen passing by offshore; 19, 11 and 8.
The rain just about stopped as I completed my count. Of course.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Birding on a Wet Weekend

On Saturday I managed to scramble a few hours together and chose to concentrate my efforts on birding along the coast. My intention being to try and locate a rock sandpiper or two... 
I started off at Clover Point, scoping out over the waves and checking the rocky foreshore. I came across the expected black turnstones and surfbirds but there was nothing else wader-wise to be had. Offshore, there was plenty going on - hundreds of mew gulls and good numbers of glaucous-winged gulls wheeling around but nothing more enticing noticeable among them. The regular western-type was present around the parking area.

Red-necked grebe
Also bobbing around on the water were common and Pacific loons, surf scoters, buffleheads, harlequin ducks, red-breasted, common and hooded mergansers, horned and red-necked grebes  (pic) and several smart long-tailed ducks.
Alcids were represented by common murres, pigeon guillemots (many now in breeding garb) and a few rhinoceros auklets. The usual cormorant species were all present and correct.
I headed along the coast, checking out Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery. Here the birds were much the same, though I did add white-winged scoter and a western grebe to the day-list.
A good scan around the Oak Bay Marina revealed little of note. I couldn't even find any greater yellowlegs; the only shorebirds seen being 6 killdeer roosting on a small islet.
At Cattle Point, a single Thayer's gull provided a little larid relief but my diligent search along the kelp draped rocks failed to turn up my hoped-for rock sandpiper and I had to be content with more surfbirds and turnstones. Oh well, next time eh? 

Another quality self-portrait...
On Sunday, Jenny and I chose to explore a previously undiscovered (by us, that is) spot by the name of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park by the Saanich Inlet. We started our hike at the McKenzie Bight access point and headed up along the Timberman Trail.
We trekked through the ridiculously verdant old growth rain forest as far as the Squally Reach Viewpoint - where on a day when the cloud wasn't at eye level, I am sure there are spectacular views to be had.
The birds were mostly silent, and mostly invisible.

Barrow's goldeneye
We returned via the Cascade Trail, a steep descent alongside an impressive wee waterfall that leads to a pebbly beach.
Here were spied a few Barrow's goldeneyes (pic) and admired the decidedly Scottish-like views. Or am I thinking of Norway..?
We slogged our way back up the muddy McKenzie Bight trail in the drizzle.

The Misty Wee Hills Of Gowlland Tod
We both really loved this placed and can't wait to visit again on a clear spring day when we will follow the high trail over to Jocelyn Hill. Maybe.
On our way home we stopped off at the Red Barn Market, and I slipped round the back to check the flooded field. Six trumpeter swans and 3 American coot were in among the many mallard.     

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Harassment Of Hedwigs Hits Horrific Heights

I don't know if it's just the time of year, or the fact that Jenny's been having more days off at weekends lately but I had another relatively birdless week.
Last Saturday, we walked along the waterfront and included Clover Point and Beacon Hill Park in our travels. My trusty bins ever-present, I tried to find something worth mentioning but everywhere we went it was business as usual (not even a Eurowigeon in the park). Of course, that's not a terribly bad thing - I don't expect to walk out of the house and bump into a mega every day, but it just means that there's nothing much to blog about.

Sunday, we had a change of scenery and drove out to East Sooke Park. We have visited the southern stretch a number of times, and walked from Aylard Farm to Beechey Head, but had never explored the more westerly areas, so with that in mind we headed for Pike Road and the Coppermine Trail.
The temperate rain forest here is truly spectacular in places, considering we're just 45 minutes away from downtown Victoria!
Of course, the forests are deadly quiet at this time of year and other than the odd Pacific wren or bald eagle it was pretty unbirdy stuff. Great scenery and a fine picnic all helped sooth the pain...
Offshore it was equally drab, with highlights including common loon and white-winged scoter. And a SUBMARINE! Yes, a real sub - the first I've ever seen in the wild (I once saw a Trident nuclear sub in dry-dock in Barrow-in-Furness while on my way to twitch a spotted sandpiper but that doesn't count).
And other than my daily lunchtime strolls around Langford Lake, that's been it really. A small flock of pine siskins dropped by today, but alas brought no redpolls. It was nice to see a pair of red crossbills yesterday gathering nesting material, close to the spot where a male has been singing for the past week or so.
A clan of river otters have been hanging around by the boardwalk for the last couple of days, always a pleasant diversion.

On a less enjoyable note, this video depicting photographers deliberately flushing a snowy owl has been causing a stir in local birding circles. The location, Boundary Bay near Vancouver, is a renowned wintering site for owls and raptors, and given this season's continent-wide snowy invasion the place has been positively jumping with the big goofy white things.
Unfortunately, the camo-clad masses have been out trampling about the place, desperate to get another shot to add the thirty-two million already posted on local forums.
It seems that a picture of a snowy owl must be considered worthless if it should show any habitat whatsoever. Only a close up of the birds' nostril hairs will do, or at the very least a flight shot.
After all, they're really bloody boring just sitting there, aren't they...?
Anyway, watch this and despair.